Reconciling petrological and isotopic mixing mechanisms in the Pitcairn mantle plume using stable Fe isotopes

Oliver Nebel, Paolo A. Sossi, Antoine Bénard, Richard J. Arculus, Gregory M. Yaxley, Jon D. Woodhead, D. Rhodri Davies, Saskia Ruttor

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Ocean-island basalts (OIB) are the products of intra-plate mantle melting above mantle plumes. These hot, buoyant upwellings rise from the deep mantle, possibly the core-mantle boundary, to the Earth's surface. Radiogenic isotope signatures of trace elements in OIB are consistent with a variety of crustally-derived recycled components in their source that are suggested to reside in the plume as eclogite or their pyroxenitic melt-reaction products. The global OIB compositional spectrum exhibits a continuum of radiogenic isotope characteristics (Sr-Nd-Pb-Hf) that indicate mixing of these plume components. However, the petrological mechanisms underpinning this mixing remain elusive. Here, we report stable Fe isotope data for plume-derived lavas of Pitcairn Island from the southwest Pacific. Iron isotope compositions, corrected for olivine fractionation, show a strong co-variation with radiogenic Nd-Sr-Pb isotopes. At Pitcairn, two isotopically distinct components have been identified, one being an enriched-mantle 1 (EM-1) component and the other being a more primitive component, which plots in multiple radiogenic isotope space in the so-called focal zone (FOZO), tentatively identified here as the plume matrix. We suggest a two-stage scenario in which Fe isotopes are first fractionated towards heavier values during formation of a reaction-zone pyroxenite. Partial silicate melt derived from a recycled crustal eclogite, assumed here to be of a subducted sediment origin, reacts with ambient peridotite to form an isotopically heavier Fe isotope pyroxenite with memory of its precursor in radiogenic isotopes. Subsequently, both, isolated and enriched reaction zone pyroxenites and ambient plume matrix reach their solidus and mixing of their partial melts to variable proportions create the spread in radiogenic and stable isotope systematics. This mixing of components is coherent with the widely observed disparity in trajectories between plume matrix and enriched components in long-lived (Sr-Nd-Pb-Hf) and extinct (W) radiogenic and stable (Fe-Mg) isotope systematics and marks a fundamental process for chemical diversity in OIB. It supports a model of isolated plume components in a primitive mantle matrix. Enriched components in the plume that contribute to this mixing appear to be solely pyroxenitic with no or very little direct contribution from the original eclogite. Timing and loci of pyroxenite formation remain to be elucidated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-67
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • EM1
  • Fe isotopes
  • FOZO
  • mantle plume
  • Pitcairn
  • pyroxenite

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